Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
First Impressions Matter to Seekers: Tips for Improving Your Digital Curb Appeal
For the first ten years of my career I had the opportunity to develop my digital skillsets in the secular world with the hope that someday these skills could be used to serve God more directly. I am pleased to say that there is a tide-shift happening now in the Seventh-day Adventist Church at multiple levels; we are collectively waking up to the untapped potential of the digital mission field.
There is potential for a beautiful marriage between traditional means of evangelism and digital communications. These new technologies are not meant to entirely replace the old methods, but serve to magnify and increase the scale of our efforts in a way that was not thought possible a few decades ago.
I spend a lot of time with seasoned evangelists who share wisdom from their experiences in the physical mission field. Many of their proven principles for effective evangelism have direct application in the digital space. To truly move forward with our mission, mentorship and education must go in two directions. Not only can the younger generations teach the older generation about technology and demonstrate how it can be used to advance our cause, but the younger, digitally-focused generations can learn much from the giants of traditional evangelism. Instead of getting frustrated by our different perspectives, we must communicate more effectively with each other to understand our common ground. Like a giant ship set in its regular route, it takes time to turn, and it takes all crew members working together.
The methods by which we minister to people and share the gospel are becoming more complex, but human nature, needs, and behavior largely stays the same and is predictable. One “analog” idea that can be translated to the digital space is the idea of “curb appeal.” Long before the internet and 360° video, real-estate agents focused their attention on finding ways to optimize something called “curb appeal” (aka the outward appearance of a property). If someone was interested in buying a house, they most likely would drive by it before calling the agent to request a walk-through. For churches, the behavior of prospective visitors was similar. Pastors and ministry leaders sought to make the outside of their church inviting for potential visitors. This is still important today, but now we have the added need for “digital curb appeal.”
The following statistics indicate why:
It’s clear that an organization’s digital presence affects behavior. What do people find when they Google your ministry or find you on social media platforms? Is the content up-to-date? Is new visitor information easy to find? Are there pictures, testimonies, and stories that reflect your church community and appear inviting to others? Is it clear what services and opportunities your church, ministry, or organization provides?
According to a LifeWay Research survey, “78% of churches have a website, [but] only 30-40% of churches are using their websites for anything other than an electronic bulletin board! And about 42% hardly keep their websites up to date?!” (Churchleaders.com) The same is true with social media. Are you posting regularly and is all the essential information current? For many, your digital presence will be their first introduction to your ministry and possibly, the faith as a whole. Many people will find your website long before they physically visit a place of worship. A study by Grey Matter Research found that, in the span of one year, “over 17 million American adults who don’t regular attend worship services visited the website of a local church or place of worship.”
Your ministry’s website and social media are your biggest digital marketing and branding tools, and it’s where first impressions are made. If your congregation members engage with the corporate Church accounts on social media, it’s likely others are seeing their interactions and could be discouraged OR encouraged to visit your local church based on the kind of content posted. Tell your local story through your website and social media. Reveal a community that others want to join. Your website is a means of communicating, in general terms, everything that your church or ministry offers to a prospective visitor. It's your "curb appeal." Your social media can further demonstrate the type of community they will experience and what sort of spiritual messages they will receive.
Importance of Mobile
When people search for local businesses using a smartphone, 76% of them visit a related location within one day (Think with Google). As of August 2019, BrightEdge reported 62% of a large sample group conducted their search queries on mobile devices, including tablets, as opposed to computers.
Making your website mobile friendly is more vital than ever, especially since Google prioritizes mobile-friendly content in the search algorithm.
I recommend that you regularly conduct an audit of your website and social media to make sure:
Strong brands create connection and take a comprehensive approach to the member experience. Today, that experience often begins online. Your digital presence should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person, motivating them towards action.